Thailand : Trade Balance, Exports and Imports (2020)

Map of Thailand

Historically, maybe a bit surprising for some, Thailand had a negative trade balance with the rest of the world, for a big chunk the time. If a positive trade balance is present, it remained relatively small (see period between 2001-2014)

Of course, if not for crude oil imports, the trade balance would be positive most if not all of the time. This applies to a lot of other countries as well.

Notice the striking trade deficits in the 1995-2000 period. This is around the 1997 Asian economic crisis, which started off in Thailand. I remember reading at the time preceding the crisis, that the country was importing a lot of 'capital goods', which was reportedly a good thing. Obviously too much of a good thing, turned out to be bad later on.
In 2014, there was a tiny trade deficit recorded of about 380 million U.S. Dollar. In 2015, the trade balance was positive by about 11.72 billion U.S. Dollar, which can be explained kind of completely by the drop in value of imported crude oil and oil products. 2016 saw a larger positive trade balance of 20.66 billion U.S. Dollar. However, total trade (import+exports) decreased during 2016 from 417 to 410 billion U.S. Dollar (-1.68%), which throughout the year appeared worrying to the Thai authorities. 2017 saw a persistence of the current trend with a positive trade balance of 13.93 billion U.S. Dollar.

Up to August 2018, there was a positive trade balance of 23.6 billion U.S. Dollar (with significantly increased exports). Likely this would result in a positive trade balance of close to 30 billion U.S. Dollar, which would be the highest in history.

In 2018, exports were high during the first 8 months, but lowered thereafter and the trade balance ended positively by 'only' 4.756 billion U.S. Dollar. Thailand imported a total value of 27.799 billion U.S. dollar in crude oil, which was close to 8 billion U.S. dollar more than in 2017, which explains a great part of the lesser positive trade balance.
Total imports in 2018 had a value of 248.20 billiion U.S. Dollar and total exports a value of 252.96 billion U.S. Dollar.

In 2019, total trade decreased. Imports lowered from the previous year to 236.26 billion U.S. Dollar, exports lowered from the previous year to 246.27 billion U.S. Dollar. This was a year with trade tensions between U.S. and China, which had complicated effects on trade around the world. While total trade decreased in 2019, the positive trade balance increased to 10.01 billion U.S Dollar. [updated]

2020 was the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Like most other countries, Thailand suffered an effect on both imports and exports. Imports decreased to 206.99 billion U.S. Dollar (-12.4 %), exports decreased to 231.47 billion U.S. Dollar (-6.0 %). Total trade decreased to 438.46 billion U.S. Dollar (-9.1 %), while the trade balance actually saw the largest figure ever (at least since 1991) at 24.48 U.S. Dollar (+32.4 %. compared to previous year).

During 10 of the 11 months before December (exception for March 2020), total trade decreased during 2020, but with both imports and exports increasing in December, total trade increased during the last month of the year. Maybe this is a good omen.

For those interested : data for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, 2017, 2019


Trade Balance of Thailand with the World from 1991 to 2020

Trade Balance Thailand-Rest of the World 1991-2020


Below are listed the most important export products by value in U.S Dollar for 2020 :

Car exports, including accessories and parts, motorcycles, are main export products from Thailand. The country was listed as 12th in the list of countries with the highest car (including commercial vehicles) production in 2014. In 2020 exports from this sector decreased by 22.16 % fromthe year before.

Computer related products (automatic data processing, electronic integrated circuits), as well as chemical products (when including ethylene and propylene) are major export products.

Most sectors listed on the graph below, saw a reduction in exports. Exceptions : gems and gold exports, rubber products (related to Covid-19 ?0, frozen and fresh fruits, telephone parts.

The increase in gems and gold exports has a peculiar explanation. Likely when the price of gold is high, and in difficult economic times, people go to one of the many gold shops in Bangkok and Thailand, and sell their gold jewelry. The gold traders do not keep the gold in large vaults, but sell it on the international market. Therefore gold exports especially increase. The reverse likely occurs when people start buying gold again.

A substantial increase occurred already in 2019 for fresh, frozen and dried fruits. We understand there is a huge market for these products in China. You could notice the appetite for dried fruits (mango the most relevant) in Thai supermarkets, where a lot is sold, not in the least to Chinese tourists (before the Corona virus came about).


Export Value of Goods exported from Thailand (2020)

Exported Products from Thailand, 2020


Asean countries (Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Brunei) take the largest chunk out of Thai exports. In a second group : China, U.S.A., all of Europe, and Japan, are of almost equal importance).

Interestingly already in 2019, the value of exports to the U.S.A. increased by 11.78 % from 28.04 to 31.34 billion U.S. Dollar. In 2020, exports to the U.S.A. increased again to 34.34 billion U.S. Dollar (despite trade overall being down). Luckily, the U.S. administration under president Trump did not take too much notice. Reason for the increase in exports ? Not sure, one could think some exports to U.S. shifted from China to Thailand.

The value of exports to China increased modestly by 2.0 % to 29.75 billion U.S. Dollar. As a result of these changes, U.S.A. became the most important export market for Thailand during 2019 and 2020.
The value of exports to Japan decreased by 6.72 % to 22.88 billion U.S. Dollars.

The value of exports to Europe decreased by 3.2 % to 29.37 billion U.S. Dollars..

In 2019, the value of exports to the 'local' market, ASEAN, decreased substantially by 8.08 % from 68.44 to 62.91 billion U.S. Dollar. 2020 saw an even more substantial decrease in exports to ASEAN of -11.73 % to 55.47 billion U.S. Dollar.

We should notice that Switzerland received a lot of Thai exports, up by 41.07 % in 2020 to 7.52 billion U.S. Dollar. What was exported to Switzerland : mostly gold.


Export Destinations of Goods from Thailand (2020)

Export destination of Thai products, 2020

In 2019 imports into Thailand reached a value of 236.26 billion U.S. Dollars. In 2020 imports decreased to 206.99 billion U.S. Dollars.

Imported goods into Thailand :

Imported crude oil (as in many countries) is very important for the Thai economy. By value it is also the largest item among Thai imports. In 2019 crude oil, valued at 21.54 billion U.S. Dollar was imported, which was however much lower than the value imported in 2018 at 26.90 billion U.S. Dollar (-19.92 %). Imports of crude oil decreased further to a value of 16.955 billion U.S. Dollar. Average oil price in 2020 was lower than in 2019..

General machinery, parts and electrical machinery are, as before, important imported productions by value in 2020. Despite a decrease in imports by 13.44 %, they are presently the largest import item.

Most sectors saw a decrease in imports. Most striking : iron and steel (-20.8%), parts of vehicles (-21.7 %), jewelry and gold (-32.1 %), natural gas (-26.45 %), oil products (-42.9 %).

Import Value of Goods imported into Thailand (2020)

Value of imported Goods into Thailand, 2020.


The U.S.A. (when compared to its importance as an export market for Thai goods), is of relatively less importance as an exporter to Thailand. In 2019 there was a substantial increase in the value of imports from the U.S. at 17.31 billion U.S. Dollar (+15.6 % compared to 2018). However, in 2020 imports from U.S.A. dropped by 14.06 % to 14.85 billion U.S. Dollar (while exports to U.S.A. increased).

For total trade, China has become the most important (and the largest) trading partner of Thailand. Imports from China increase by about 13 % in 2018. In 2019 the increase was modest (+1 %) but when over the threshold of 50 billion U.S. Dollar. Imports from China slightly decreased in 2020 to 48.85 billion U.S. Dollar (-0.83 %).

During 2018, oil exporting countries from the Middle East (U.A.E., Saudi Arabia, Qatar) increased the value of their exports to Thailand. Interestingly, 'small' Switzerland exports relatively (compare to other European countries) a lot to Thailand. During 2019, while they still feature among the most important trading partners, the Middle Eastern countries exported crude oil at lower prices. This trend persisted in 2020.

ASEAN is the second most important import source for Thailand, but less goods are imported from the whole of ASEAN, than from China. Imports in value from ASEAN decreased by 8.13 % to 41.49 billion U.S. Dollar in 2019, and decreased further to 39.37 billion U.S. Dollar in 2020.

In 2020 imports from Japan decreased by no less than 16.62 % to 27.68 billion U.S. Dollar. Even more substantial, imports from Europe decreased by 20.43 % in 2020 to 22.029 billion U.S. Dollar.

Import Origin of Goods imported into Thailand (2020)

Origin of Imports into Thailand, 2020


Trade balance with major trading blocks and partners :

Thailand has substantial trade deficits with both China and Japan. There is also a substantial Thai-Japanese industry, exporting to the world from Thailand.

Thailand has a substantial trade surplus with the ASEAN countries and with the U.S.A. The trade balance with U.S.A. is positive and increased from 14.04 to 19.491 billion U.S. Dollar.

Trade with Europe was well balanced in 2019. However, in 2020 the trade surplus increased to 7.343 billion U.S. Dollar from 2.609 billion U.S. Dollar in 2019.

While the numbers change sometimes a bit, the trade balances as figured below have persisted for many years in a row now.

In summary, trade deficits with China and to a lesser degree Japan. Trade surpluses with Asean, U.S.A. and Europe.


Trade Balance between Thailand and most important trading Blocks and Countries (2020)


Resources : Data are somewhat better presented than before on this new website provided by the Ministry of Commerce